Mixtapes Get Bad Rap

To me, it’s the hardest, most blatant governmental blow to hip-hop culture since Mayor Ed Koch handcuffed graffiti in the early 1980s. Since then, New York City has adopted a zero-toler-ance policy against the art of bombing. Next up on the hip-hop chop block: mixtapes. Recently, a renowned mainstream mixtape produc-er, DJ Drama, was arrested, had assets seized and was jailed on $100,000 bond for violating a law against “boot-legging” that, when broken, actually helps the ailing mu-sic industry – hip-hop in particular. The big “bust” (which is an apt word because the raid at Drama’s studio involved a local S.W.A.T. team … watch out, those turntables may be packing heat) was a collabo-ration between Atlanta law enforcement and the Record-ing Industry Association of America (RIAA). Drama has since made bail and, though all his albums were seized, I can still buy one of his “Gangster Grillz” mixtapes on http://www.Amazon.com. That’s odd. If you don’t know what a mixtape is, it’s been an inte-gral staple of hip-hop almost since the art form’s incep-tion and can sometimes be the keystone to a career. It is not a bootlegged album; it’s a compilation amalgamated by people like DJ Drama (a huge name in the mainstream mix-tape world), who has endless connections with record la-bels, rappers and everyone in between. His Gangsta Grillz studio is probably as legitimate a business as the mixtape industry has, at least according to the Law. See, the intrinsic reality of the mixtape is that it’s ille-gal, but it shouldn’t be: Dee-jays use copyrighted mate-rial and alter it with fades and beatmatching, feeding artists’ creativity, competi-tiveness and recognition. When emcees spit over these beats and sell them – legally or not – they pluralize the industry by inspiring com-petition and opening doors for lesser-known rappers. They’re self-promotional tools for artists and scouting reports for record compa-nies, not bootlegged Nas CDs he’s selling for five bucks a pop. “In this case, we didn’t find drugs or weapons,” an officer said in a Fox News broadcast. Another snitch was searching through Dra-ma’s albums and assets wear-ing a black jacket that read fearsomely and importantly, “RIAA Anti-Piracy Unit.” It looked as though Tony Sopra-no had been busted! I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s possible the gov-ernment has an agenda to at-tack hip-hop’s industry and culture as a whole, but I just did. Record companies were always privy to mixtapes, but didn’t regulate them for good reason: They make money. With the explosion of intangible tunes scat-tered across the internet, the RIAA is trying to kill mixtapes to save what’s left of the legit industry. If they succeed, the mainstream and underground game is in for a change. But hopefully (and more likely), the RIAA’s au-thority will fizzle out because mixtape vendors will always, as they already do, give you this, the dopest of combos: a five-dollar poster with a free mixtape on the side.